By the time Manchester United’s visit to Sunderland comes around, the Red Devils will know the task in hand as Liverpool will already have beaten Chelsea – fingers crossed.
The Stadium of Light will prove to be a tough fixture, the talk of Liverpool ‘rolling over’ and Sunderland boss Steve Bruce giving his former club a ‘free ride’ should be put to be straight away as these are professional players who would not throw a game. Both United and Chelsea will be made to work by their respective opponents.
United have won five and lost none of their last seven trips to Wearside, so we will be hoping that stat gets better but Sunderland have lost only two of their last 10 games.
Focussing on the Manchester United side, the defensive line up will be relatively similar to the Spurs match, Rafael on the right, Patrice Evra on the left, with Nemanja Vidic partnering Rio Ferdinand at centre back. The England Captain returned to training this week following a groin injury and looks set to start.
Gary Neville should only make the bench as he is still carrying a slight calf strain.
The midfield should contain an in-form Paul Scholes partnered with Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs could continue his role as an attacking midfield player, supporting a lone striker.
Nani is in scintillating form and will no doubt start the match, however he may move to the right side to make room for Ji-Sung Park who could start on the left.
Owen Hargreaves was a surprise name last week as he was named on the bench, and the same could be true this week for the injury hit player.
Dimitar Berbatov will probably lead the line on his own once more, but Wayne Rooney returned to training on Friday but may have to settle for a place on the bench at Sunderland.
Sir Alex Ferguson does not expect an easy game:
“Sunderland have hit form,” says the boss. “My old captain has done a great job there, and he’s started to bring one or two young players. It’s refreshing to see a manager putting his trust in young players.
“Darren Bent has had a great season, young Fraizer Campbell is doing very well. He’s getting a quota of goals and it is encouraging for him. Kenwyne Jones is also a real handful and they’ve got some good young players in their team, like [David] Meyler and [Jordan] Henderson. So, we know what we’re facing.
“And it’s one thing saying we hope Liverpool do us a turn, it’s Sunderland’s last home game of the season and they are in good form. Sunderland will do their best and we have to match that. It’s not an easy game,” He concluded.
Steve Bruce’s Black Cats will be without Alan Hutton who is suspended, so for former United full-back Phil Bardsley could get a start. George McCartney and Andy Reid are both out with hamstring injuries, but Lee Cattermole and John Mensah could return from their respective calf and knee problems.
Despite absentees there will be plenty to worry about as Darren Bent is a striker on form and looking to cement a place on the plane to South Africa, so United cannot expect any favours from the former Tottenham man.
Goalkeeper Craig Gordon is another key player for the Wearside club. He struggled when he first arrived but has now proved his doubters wrong with a string of fine performances, compared to United’s own Edwin van der Sar it will be a difficult task to beat the Scottish shot stopper.
Of the match, the Black Cats boss said:
“We seriously believe we can win. All this stuff about just because I played there for 10 years. What am I going to say to the players ‘Oh by the way lads, just forget it today’.
“There will be near 50,000 here, we’re live on telly, every man and his dog wants to be here. ‘Just let them win, will you?’ It is not going to happen.”
So there you have it, no favours from Fergie’s first title winning captain. Though it must play in his mind that he has never beaten his mentor. In 13 meeting between the two, Ferguson has won 10 and drawn three and Sunderland’s last league win over Manchester United was in March 1997. Since then United have won 11 and drawn four of their last 15 league meetings.
But having said that, only Chelsea and Aston Villa have come away from the Stadium of Light with maximum points this season.
Expect no favours from Sunderland, but lets hope for one from Liverpool!
Prediction: 3-1 United
Probable Line Up: van der Sar, Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Fletcher, Scholes, Giggs, Park; Berbatov
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